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DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #30

Well, that's it - mission accomplished - Day 30 signals the end of the NaJoPoMo challenge. I've enjoyed participating and I hope you've enjoyed the journey with me too.

There were a number of subjects that I had in mind to cover. Unfortunately, one short month was not enough, and although some projects were started (and one or two even finished) they never made the grade. I dearly wanted to do justice to the 'Cyprob', but it's such an emotive and important matter that no journal could ever give it the consideration it deserves. Alongside quirks such as the SBA's, moufflon, Big Mac, Yuri Gagarin and the Troodos golf ball, I also wanted to share some of the oddities that arise on a daily basis and affect both expats and Cypriots alike. Over the last month I've made copious notes and prolific scribbles on countless papers. I've delved into hundreds of web pages and analysed a mass of statistics. I've sorted the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the fiction and feasted on a banquet of facts and figures.

Importantly, I've discovered new interests that prior to the challenge would have just passed me by. Over the next few weeks I plan to build my own traditional 'fournou' - a clay oven - and when it's complete I'll be baking village bread, cooking Kleftico and Tavvas. My wife is also encouraged by the new recipes I've uncovered and she's looking forward to producing new culinary creations.

In short, for me, NaJoPoMo has been an incredibly worthwhile and rewarding experience. When I've caught my breath and tackled some of the jobs that I've recently avoided, there'll be a few prospective Entries that I'll happily write up and submit to <./>PeerReview</.>.

If you'd like an explanation of any of the subjects I've touched on above, feel free to post below or pop over to my Personal Space.

For now, Kali Nichta, and if I may, I'd like to be the first (on the advent of the festive season) to wish you Xronia Polla!

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Latest reply: Nov 30, 2011

DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #29

Depending on your viewpoint, one of the major advantages of being a Cyprus resident is its very favourable tax regimes. Cyprus has the lowest tax burden of all the EU countries and it's not just by a trivial margin.

I'll spare you the complex calculations and methodology used, but I'm quoting from a chart prepared by some of the top players in economic research who've undertaken detailed studies and extensive analysis in these matters. In short, this data is accurate - trust me - but it could be open to interpretation if you decide to lob a curve-ball into the modelling technique. For the purposes of this journal, it'll do fine.

Have sympathy for the Belgians who top the list of fleeced countries. With an average salary of €51,295 they get to see the least, losing 58.83% in deductions, and taking home just €21,118. Fairing rather well are UK workers, who starting with €47,118 (converted from £GBP) lose 37.23%, pocketing €29,576. The happiest chappies, are of course, the Cypriots. Although starting with a relatively low wage of €22,778, they are only hit at a rate of 18.65%, leaving €18,530 to donate to their wives as housekeeping.

Permit me, if you will, to bandy around a few more figures. No-one pays personal income tax in Cyprus until their earnings exceed €19,500 - there's some exceptional joined-up thinking going on here; €19,500 is considered the minimum salary required to avoid potential hardship, so no tax applies. Even if you are wealthy, you'll never part with more than 30% of your income in tax; it's the top rate. VAT is pegged at the EU minimum of 15%, corporation tax is just 10% while council/municipality tax (which varies with each administrative area) costs me the princely sum of €91. Per year.

There are some stealth taxes, of course. A €2 levy if you need to see the doctor, 4% import tax on ostrich eggs (not applicable if sourced from the EU) and €0.02 each time you buy a postage stamp. As if the 2 cent charge was not galling enough, you are actually issued with a separate 2 cent stamp, which must be licked and stuck alongside the main postal fee. It's not surprising that many were up in arms when this unfair practice was introduced - not only do you lose further wealth in back-door taxation, but there's also the imposition of enforced labour when having to apply additional stamps without receiving payment for your effort.

Just like the Greeks, the Cypriots abhor taxes. While legal avoidance has become a national challenge, illegal evasion is rife. Ask any accountant, solicitor or private doctor for an itemised bill and you'll be swiftly advised that a further 15% will be added on top of the quoted fee for provision of 'a proper one'. Cash, as always, is the order of the day - never insult a Cypriot tradesperson by proffering a cheque, or God-forbid, a credit card.

In concluding, then, I pose the question as to why so many expats are now leaving Cyprus' shores and claiming that she has become far too expensive. For years they have taken advantage of favourable taxation, the cost of living has risen only slightly inline with inflation and commodities such as fuel are still among the cheapest in Europe. Let's have another look at the figures I quoted above.

Your average UK retiree living in Cyprus had an annual income from the UK of €29,576. When adjusted to local conditions it rose to €36,478 - they were living like kings and lauding their wealth among the indigenous population. All was well and good until the £GBP began to plummet against the €uro. From a high of 1.61 to a low of 1.05, they lost 33% of their income, lost their status as kings and found themselves living just above the poverty line. Cyprus, undoubtedly, took the blame.

Cyprus never deserved it. It never became more expensive or any more stringent with taxes. Decisions made in the UK (which, in the good old days, were slated and cited as the reasons for leaving) became the excuse to blame Cyprus for expats' woes.

I'm glad they've gone. The lack of moans and whinges from my fellow compatriots makes Cyprus a far nicer place to be. And it was almost perfect to begin with.

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Latest reply: Nov 29, 2011

DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #28

Three years ago I met a man called Calum and his wife Laura. Laura was Cypriot-born and Calum was a New Zealander. I still have no idea of how they both met, but I do know that Laura spent quite some time in Australia, so I'm assuming that it would have been in that part of the world.

Over the years, work has meant that we've met two, sometimes three times a week and exchanged pleasantries, but only ever as colleagues, rather than friends. Calum is a great story teller; full of big ideas and tales that are always fun to listen to but always leaving an element of doubt as to their authenticity. Laura busies herself with homeopathy and bottles olive oil to sell alongside incense and Africana artefacts. Unsurprisingly, both are often dismissed as a little flaky - initially, I was probably guilty of that too - but I think it was because they never conversed about their daily or personal lives, which naturally makes people a little suspicious.

In recent times, both have offered a gradual insight into a series of personal setbacks and as we've slowly begun to unravel the depth of their struggle, my wife and I have found ourselves becoming more and more charitable towards them. Just six months ago, I learnt that they had two sons - one is 12, the other 15 - and I was astounded; this is the sort of information that people impart willingly, often enthusiastically when trying to indicate their social position, life-style and career choices. But no, they are both incredibly private people.

Calum first asked me for some practical advice about a year ago because he knew that my working background was electronics. He had a electric cement mixer that kept blowing fuses and wondered why. I suggested various areas to check, which he said he'd already done, so I casually diagnosed it as a faulty motor and recommended replacement. It was only when he turned to walk away and mentioned in a downbeat manner that he'd replace it when he could afford it, that I thought I needed to make a little more effort. I offered to take a look if he'd remove the motor and give it to me for appraisal, which he did.

It ended up being the start capacitor (which I replaced with an old one I had lying around) and since then Calum has sought my advice on further matters. Currently, he desperately needs a reliable internet connection - the boys' schooling is suffering without one, but they've no phone line and no hope of getting one. I suggested tapping into a neighbour (with their agreement) but was told that the nearest neighbour was 1km away and fed by a satellite connection. Over the last three months, I've repeatedly offered suggestions, parts and ideas but it came to the point where I could only do better with the benefit of a site visit.

My wife and I went today.

What I expected to be a 10 minute appraisal turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days I've ever had in Cyprus. Calum and Laura have 27 acres of smallholding sunk deep into a valley and overlooking the sea to the distance. In addition to the main house, they have a tiny traditional Cypriot cottage which Calum built for Laura's late father, from whom they subsequently inherited the land. The surroundings are utterly breathtaking, perfectly kempt and littered with personal touches that could only come from someone like Laura. We stayed as long as we could, before my wife needed to collect her sisters children from school, and we were offered the greatest of hospitality.

The conversation flowed and flowed as each party disclosed information and life histories that would never be discussed among the general public. I left thoroughly elated and in complete awe of two of the poorest, but happy people I know.

What they have is a lifetime of work, perfectly sculpted and fashioned to produce near-Utopia. What they don't have is money. What they have, I'd give up everything I own to be a part of - I was truly envious.

I arrived as a facilitator, but we left as friends. It was entirely obvious that very few get to ever witness such paradise and share in their lives. We are revisiting on Saturday and instead of working toward a solution, I'll get to kick back, imbibe a few tinnies and appreciate a feast of Cypriot flavours intertwined with a tinge of NZ influence.

You can lead the pension-funded expat-lifestyle, swallowing away your days in the Corner pin or the Kings Sword while complaining about anything and everything and boasting how great your life is, or you can meet people like Calum and Laura and endeavour for perfection that's been crafted from sheer love, dedication to a cause and a lifetime of secrecy.

I know what I'm inspired to do.

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Latest reply: Nov 28, 2011

DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #27

Last night's weather forecast promised a beautiful day and predictably it was. My wife and I decided to spend some time in the garden - the recent rains have suddenly brought everything to life and some serious jobs need attending to before things get out of hand.

I'm not a gardener, nor have I ever had any great desire to be, so quite why we chose a plot that's 2000m2 (almost half an acre) I do not know. The vast majority is fully established now and I'm particularly fond of our small orchard which is home to olive, lemon, orange, pomegranate, grapefruit and fig trees. To the front of the house is a typical Mediterranean garden filled with date palms, prickly pear, various agaves, Cypress firs, bougainvillea and all manner of spiky things of unidentified origin. To the rear we have bamboo, carob, and oleander alongside hibiscus hedging. Large expanses are covered by gravel - much as I'd like to plant it all, I don't think I'd ever have enough days in the year if we didn't have some low maintenance areas.

Maintenance is the heart of the problem. Even 800m2 of gravel needs treatment with weed killer 2-3 times a year. You'd be forgiven for thinking that very little would grow considering Cyprus' dry and arid climate, but believe me it does, with a vengeance. Most of my time is spent simply chopping back, hacking down, killing off or generally destroying in order to keep on top of the rampage. If it doesn't get hit this time of the year, come spring we'll be forcibly evicted from the house by the advancing onslaught of growing matter. While I'm regularly seen creating havoc with chainsaws, loppers, scythes and rotorvators, my dear wife will plant yet more colourful pots or create small 'feature additions' in unoccupied soil. They always look pretty but given two years they become ravaging, unstoppable monsters. My current battle against a particularly substantial geranium profusion is being lost - another little centrepiece that was planted just three winters ago.

I've only got a very small window in which to carry out the work. Hacking back is one thing, disposal is another. The only cost effective method is fire, usually a big one, but these are only permitted between 1st December and 31st January. Before I can even strike a match, I'll need to have written permission from the Mukhtar and to have briefed (and received a 'burning certificate' from) the fire department, so I'll need to get my skates on.

While surveying the areas of primary importance, my eye caught the Agave Americana, which if I'm not mistaken is about to do something rather spectacular. I'd estimate that the plant is around 10-12 years old and it currently stands at 2m in height. I was already impressed by this wonder of nature when I discovered from a neighbour that if I had the right equipment and a modicum of know-how I could use it to produce an alcohol known as Pulque. Now, it appears as if it is about to flower.

If it does, then over the next 4-5 months a stem will emerge from the heart of the flower growing to 50cms wide and supporting huge heads of flowers while rising to a colossal 8 metres in height! That's enough to dwarf the bungalow and be visible from a considerable distance.

Regrettably, when it does, all the energy the plant has accumulated over its life will be used in the flowering process. When all is done, the plant will die.

I'm thoroughly excited about this potential growth extravaganza. It will, undoubtedly, be an experience to savour, remember and relate in later life, though I feel sorry for the poor plant and its eventual demise.

Actually, no I don't. Guess who'll be left to hack down the rotting corpse and pay for the skip? For sure, there'll be no burning certificate available when you really could do with one.

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Latest reply: Nov 27, 2011

DDD's NaJoPoMo - Only In Cyprus #26

On Friday, just before my wife headed out to run some errands, she asked me to pop into Kokkinos Yperagora to pick up a roll of carrier bags. I still have no idea why she wanted them or even why she couldn't get them herself since she was passing the door. Regardless, I did as I was instructed, traipsed around the store inquisitively and eventually located them (as one would expect) behind a stack of pasta. I sighed heavily as I joined the queue at the checkout; six in front - lose an hour.

When I finally got to pay my €1.90, the checkout girl insisted, despite my protestations, on putting them into a carrier bag. Picture, if you will, a roll of carrier bags, overwrapped by a secure plastic label proudly stating "100 durable carrier bags in convenient roll-format for easy transportation and handling" being inserted into another carrier bag to further complement my previously-eased transportation and handling. The situation was so surreal that I could offer no adequate resistance and I decided to quietly exit the store with my carrier bags securely stashed inside the carrier bag.

Imagine my horror, when just a few moments later, I stopped at the Periptero for a 'Cyprus Mail' and the attendant insisted on placing my newspaper (Yes, you're ahead of me aren't you?) into a carrier bag!

You see, Cypriots are obsessed with carrier bags. Absolutely everything, it would seem, should be conveyed via plastic and I've never understood why. I can partially comprehend branding and I therefore expect to see an expensive pair of Prada (TM) shoes touted in an equally expensive and luxurious relocation device, but knowing the counterfeits and knock-offs that are plentiful here it's more likely to read "Prodo". Just last week I went to 'Home and Wood' for 25 litres of matt emulsion. The paint was neatly stored in a giant plastic tub complete with user-friendly carrying handle. The ensuing struggle at the payment desk to insert it into an undersized carrier bag took longer than the selection, conveyance and reimbursement process.

Why is it then that everyday, innocuous, products need such protection? Our under-sink kitchen cupboard is filled, to bursting point, with redundant high-density polyethylene bags. As much as I try to recycle them as bin liners, filling for pillows and makeshift balloons at birthday parties, more come in on a daily basis than leave.

I'm now having to dispose of them with the general refuse but there is one slight snag. The skyvalloforo won't accept anything unless it's in a bag.

I'll be back to Kokkinos on Monday to buy some larger plastic.

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Latest reply: Nov 26, 2011


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